Written by: David Bowie, Brian Eno
Recorded: July-August 1977
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti
Released: 14 October 1977
Brian Eno: synthesizer
‘Moss Garden’ is an instrumental piece on “Heroes”, David Bowie’s 12th studio album.
Another two weeks were spent on recording an ambient music Side B, of which ‘Moss Garden’ is my favourite.
Bowie, Bolan And The Brooklyn Boy
It was one of four tracks co-written with Brian Eno – the others were “Heroes”, ‘Neuköln’, and ‘The Secret Life Of Arabia’. ‘Moss Garden’ was a conceptual piece based on a location in Kyoto, Japan.
David wanted to do a piece which was very descriptive, something I don’t normally do inasmuch as I usually start something and then say ‘Oh that’s what it is’ and then follow that direction. But this was quite studied.
David told me about this place in Kyoto called The Moss Garden and then we just started to work. And, again, there was this very sloppy sort of technique – like, I was just playing around with this chord-sequence on the Yamaha synthesizer and I said ‘Give us a shout when you think it’s long enough’, you know, and sort of carried on. And then David looked at the clock and said ‘Yeah, that’ll probably do’, and we stopped.
And, on the record, that’s exactly where the piece ends. I find this very, very curious. It’s so random somehow.
NME, 3 December 1977
Eno claimed that the song was composed using Oblique Strategies, the deck of cards he designed with multimedia artist Peter Schmidt, which contained instructions intended to encourage creativity and suggest new options.
In a 2006 BBC Radio 6 interview, Eno said that Bowie drew a card stating “Destroy everything”, while his own stated “Change nothing and continue with immaculate consistency”. There was, in fact, no “Destroy everything” card. The closest said:
–the most important thing
Bowie played a koto (箏) – a plucked zither instrument – on the recording. The koto is the national instrument of Japan, which on ‘Moss Garden’ provided a glimpse of humanity amid the synthesized soundscapes. The choice of koto may have been partly inspired by the German band Neu!, whose second album Neu! 2 (1973) featured the instrument.
Side two was recorded in weeks two and three. In the background was the inaudible click track, each click had its own number. With ‘Moss Garden’, Brian excelled himself with textures that imitated nature, atmospheric elements of distant thunder, wind, water and bird call, all originating from his manipulation of the Synthi. David played his Chamberlin sampler, the successor to the Mellotron.
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book
‘Moss Garden’ appeared on both the 1993 and 2001 versions of Bowie’s instrumentals compilation All Saints. An edit of the track was also released on the soundtrack of Brett Morgen’s 2022 film Moonage Daydream.